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Asmik Grigorian’s standout Jenůfa in a Vienna revival with no weak hyperlink within the solid – Seen and Heard Worldwide

Austria Janáček, Jenůfa: Soloists, Refrain and Orchestra of Vienna State Opera / Tomáš Hanus (conductor). Livestreamed (directed by Jakob Pitzer) from Vienna State Opera, 15.10.2022. (JPr)

Kostelnička (Eliška Weissová) and Asmik Grigorian (Jenůfa) © Michael Pöhn

Director – David Pountney
Set design – Robert Israel
Costume design – Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting design – Mimi Jordan Sherin
Choreography- Renato Zanella
Refrain director – Martin Schebesta

Laca Klemeň – David Butt Philip
Števa Buryjia – Michael Laurenz
Kostelnička Buryjovka – Eliška Weissová
Jenůfa – Asmik Grigorian
Grandmother Buryjovka – Margarita Nekrasova
Mill Foreman – Marcus Pelz
Village Choose – Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Village Choose’s spouse – Stephanie Houtzeel
Karolka – Anna Bondarenko
Shepherdess – Daria Sushkova
Barena – Jenni Hietala
Jana – Ileana Tonca

Solely the third Jenůfa I’ve seen and the primary by Scottish Opera in Glasgow in 1989 was additionally directed by David Pountney, although there have been too a few years in between for me to recollect whether or not there have been any similarities to his present 2002 Vienna manufacturing Nonetheless, I do recall the excellent solid of British singers within the main roles: Anne Williams-King (Jenůfa), Graham Clark (Števa) and the much-missed Pauline Tinsley and Alberto Remedios as Kostelnička and Laca.

Janáček’s 1904 opera includes the tangled relationships which might be continuously commonplace in TV dramas, in addition to centring on the all-too-familiar tightly knit group concealing their all-too-human failings underneath a veneer of ethical rectitude. Števa has made Jenůfa pregnant, although he’s a relatively feckless drunk who’s having fun with life whereas ready to inherit a mill when his grandmother dies. Jenůfa’s stepmother (the) Kostelnička – who’s variously described because the spouse of the churchwarden or the village sacristan (both approach it explains her non secular zealotry) – calls for that Števa mustn’t marry Jenůfa till he has stopped consuming alcohol for a yr. (On this manufacturing Števa doesn’t seem that interested by Jenůfa.) Grandmother Buryjovka’s different son Laca – a widower like Števa – can also be in love with Jenůfa and though unaware of her being pregnant turns into so jealous of her and Števa that he scars Jenůfa’s face, probably intentionally, or as right here in Vienna, seemingly by chance.

By suggesting she has gone to Vienna (!), Kostelnička conceals Jenůfa’s being pregnant and after the infant is born reveals all to Števa, however he can’t undergo with the wedding as a result of he’s appalled at her disfigurement and has now turn into engaged to the choose’s daughter Karolka. In an effort to keep away from all of the disgrace and shame – and her personal status I think – Kostelnička medicine her stepdaughter and takes the infant out into the snow and murders it (telling Jenůfa that it had died whereas she slept for 2 days recovering from a fever). Laca returns and consoles Jenůfa they usually plan the remainder of their lives collectively. When the physique is found on their marriage ceremony day Števa’s disgrace is revealed and the villagers blame Jenůfa and are about to stone her earlier than Kostelnička – who’s riddled with guilt – confesses all. Jenůfa and Laca are left to choose up the items of their lives collectively.

Pountney definitely suggests we’re in nineteenth-century Moravia, although till we get occasional bursts of color from some conventional costumes the whole lot from Marie-Jeanne Lecca is generally dowdy gray or black and matches Robert Israel’s relatively gloomy, silver-grey units. The curtain rises throughout the brief prelude to Act I and we’re inside a mill with an enormous central wheel with its gears seen turning to the sound of a xylophone and to the entrance is a desk, two benches and a chair: it’s someplace each imposing and oppressive. After the second act’s doom-laden prelude, we see Kostelnička’s hideaway to be a grain retailer with sacks piled excessive on the again with solely a few doorways and the desk and many others. once more.

David Butt Philip (Laca) and Asmik Grigorian (Jenůfa) © Michael Pöhn

Act III – probably the most effective act of the opera – begins with a jaunty, festive introduction and takes place in an unlimited, empty picket barn fringed by chairs and with a for much longer desk being readied for the marriage celebrations. When the curtain rises, we see 4 silhouetted figures: Grandmother Buryjovka, Kostelnička, Jenůfa and the pacing Laca. Jenůfa is in black and it’s commented on how she appears ‘like a sober widow’. When members of the marriage celebration come into the scene they’re in additional conventional costumes and Karolka (Anna Bondarenko) is a little bit of a drama queen wearing all her finery. Grandmother Buryjovka provides her blessing to the wedding on the very level a toddler’s physique is found and Jenůfa reveals it was her child. To everybody’s dismay Kostelnička accepts the blame suggesting – earlier than being led away – how ‘The Saviour will gaze even at me’ and the way she beloved herself greater than she beloved her stepdaughter. In a uncommon misstep in Janáček’s in any other case, pulsating, atmospheric, people music-inspired – if relatively menacing – rating, he conjures up a timpani-led false ending earlier than the transient poignant love duet for Jenůfa and Laca results in one other fruits underscored by Brucknerian brass and timpani. Jenůfa says she forgave him way back and professes for Laca ‘a love that God, sure God, smiles on kindly!’

Tomáš Hanus’s Jenůfa – as heard by loudspeakers – sounded as if he has as idiomatic really feel for Janáček. On the one hand it was a rigorously crafted account of the music however one which not often relaxed the stress throughout the opera’s three acts. He was supported by an enthusiastic refrain and sometimes great enjoying from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Asmik Grigorian dominated this Jenůfa and, principally, I’m repeating a lot of what I wrote when she sang the position at Covent Backyard. Gregorian reveals herself painfully conflicted over her rival suitors and is completely convincing dramatically. She is as vocally assured as now we have come to count on from her and is absolutely able to heart-rending lyricism on the finish, even after three acts of full-on singing. I nonetheless await seeing and listening to Gregorian reside within the opera home however stay satisfied – in her repertoire – she is the main singing-actor of her soprano era: Gregorian’s performances are theatrical with little of the mechanics of singing on present.

Eliška Weissová – a brand new title to me – was initially sternly implacable and autocratic as Kostelnička and her psychological disintegration to guilt-wracked despair was compelling. There was some suitably fervent singing from Michael Laurenz because the dissolute Števa and British tenor David Butt Philip – who appears to get extra alternatives overseas than in his dwelling nation – was in full-throated voice as his lovelorn and fast to anger half-brother Laca. Janáček’s tessitura is undoubtedly difficult, but Butt Philip appeared not often troubled.

This robust casting prolonged to all of the smaller roles: Margarita Nekrasova was a domineering Grandmother Buryjovka, and Stephanie Houtzeel caught the attention because the Choose’s spouse making extra of the half than I think Janáček meant. Musically there was no weak hyperlink on this Jenůfa so far as I’m involved.

Jim Pritchard



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